My employment with Semiahmoo House Society (SHS) started in February 1994. The interview went well. I mentioned that I was very impressed with the philosophy of SHS and it would be an honour and a privilege to serve in the organization. At first, I was nervous as to how I am communicating, but I found that both the Director and Program Manager were showing respect and courtesy in the interview So, I felt my tension levels subsiding. When asked about my own personal philosophy, I responded by saying that I believe in serving humanity to the best of my ability and especially those facing challenges in life, an idea based on the principles “By Love Serve”.
Arrival at the Group Home
The Director picked me up at the SHS main office, which was in leased space at the corner of King George and 24th at the time, and, on the way, she gave me a general picture of the group home where I would be working. I learned that there were 5 individuals we supported and staff who would become my co-workers. After our arrival at the home, the Director introduced me to the staff. My co-workers welcomed me very politely as we got to know each other’s first names. After some coffee and goodies, I was given a guided tour of the home and the names of each of the five individuals who lived there. Also, I was assigned to one individual as his key support worker.
Arrival of the Individuals
At about 3:30 pm, the HandyDART arrived in the driveway and the driver opened the door. The group of tired looking individuals got off the bus carrying their lunch boxes and entered the home. After they settled down, the Manager invited everyone into the living room and he introduced me. I will never forget the cheerful smiles on their faces! They shook hands with me, gave me a very warm welcome and started memorizing my name. I felt very encouraged by their keen interest in me.
All the individuals loved to hear music on their radios and cassette players (yes, it was that long ago) with The Sound of Music video being very popular with the ladies. Everyone looked forward to going out for after dinner walks in Clayton Park or Douglas Park. Outings on weekends would take us to Derby Reach Park or Redwood Park where the discussions would be about animal habitat, fishing season or migration of Canada geese, etc.
A great sense of humour was displayed in normal conversations which enhanced the positive atmosphere in the home. Family visits and birthday celebrations were very important. For one individual, the weekly attendance at the church with family was of high importance. Weekly visits for exercise program workouts brought lively discussions on maintaining good health. Their attitude toward staff was very positive, respectful and fun loving.
My co-workers were highly dedicated people, committed to individuals as well as to fellow workers. It was so encouraging in the duration of a 10-hour shift to be open minded and willing to discuss any concerns pertaining to families of individuals. Showing kindness and a caring spirit to each other was greatly appreciated. The 10-hour shift did not seem that long after all when one is in the midst of such a fantastic supportive group.
During the course of months and years of serving together, the working relationships developed into meaningful friendships. There were invitations to family birthday celebrations, wedding ceremonies, house warming events, Christmas parties, going for walks, etc. Bringing small gifts for each other from any travel destinations meant that the co-workers were remembered and thought about. It was such a great feeling to know that you are recognized in such a relational way. I had a wonderful time with my co-workers in all my years with SHS.
Since some staff were immigrants from other countries, our discussions were enriched by learning about different cultures and languages, especially about recipes of different ethnic foods. I have learned to say “Shukraan” in Arabic for “Thank you”, “Komasta” in Spanish for “How are You?”, “Szein Dobre” in Polish for “Good morning.”
One evening I was coming down with some seasonal cold. One of the individuals looked deep into me and said, “Sudhir, you are not feeling well, are you?” When I agreed, he placed his hand over my shoulder and prayed that God would bless me and heal me. I was challenged to think and reflect on this situation. My common cold or not feeling well was being interpreted in a spiritual context and it had been decided therefore to pray for the caregiver. I was struck by the faith of the individual. Should I not enlarge my mental horizons to view the spiritual aspects of the individuals in my care? What does that mean and involve? Are Faith and Life related? Can Faith be trusted to bring about a healing for one’s problems?
A the home Christmas Party, one parent brought his guitar and another brought his trumpet and they both joined me in playing my accordion, as some neighbours families and individuals sang Christmas songs together. It was very inspirational. What a wonderful spirit of humanity! Can humanity learn to celebrate life together? Can the community come together with any available resources, talents and abilities? Do we need rocket science for this?
Yes, the reality of retirement finally dawned on me. Suddenly, the clock and the calendar had no reference or meaning; they were gone by the wayside on the onward movement of the journey of life. I had a choice to make. It involved a deliberate decision on my part. Do I take the easy road to my TV and the remote control and become a couch potato, withdrawn and self-isolated from the world around me? Or face a challenge to my own self: Rediscover my own talents and capabilities and get my feet wet in a new river of life? I spent a whole month debating in my own self regarding the two choices facing me. Where would I go from there?
A Final Decision Made
ALOHA! Here, I come! I have joined a Hawaiian Dance Program. During the first month of practices, my feet were not responding to the rhythm or coordination. Should I quit it and take the easy way out? No! “Never quit!” was a strong lesson I learned from the individuals while serving at SHS. “Stick with it and persevere.” Yes! The results are now showing.
The Hawaiian Dance class is made up of beginners like me, from different cultures and backgrounds, very committed to learning this new dance. Last year in 2015, we performed twelve shows in Surrey and Langley in senior centres, nursing homes and in special community events. Absolutely delightful! The bright facial expressions of the audiences said so.
The dance class performed twice at SHS, in April of 2014 and 2015, in addition to my solo performance in 2015. It’s a privilege to make them happy and see a smile on their expressions.
Could there be a group of dedicated people in the community, a circle of friends of SHS who can support and promote its philosophy—a group made up of families, former staff and individuals who can meet once in six months to explore some ideas and create do something new for our fantastic individuals and staff?
By the way, I am teaching myself from a tutor book how to play a Hawaiian steel guitar. Yes you guessed it right: to entertain one day the great community of SHS.
Three cheers to Semiahmoo House Society!
By Sudhir Wesley, Former Employee of Semiahmoo House Society
Semiahmoo House Society, a non-profit organization located in Surrey/White Rock, exists to provide quality services and supports to people with disabilities and their families in the community.
The Semiahmoo Foundation exists to fund, support and enhance the programs and services delivered by Semiahmoo House Society.